Alice Towers and her dad Jonny: 'He corners with his knee skimming the tarmac – I've inherited those skills'

Ability on two wheels runs in the the Canyon-SRAM star's family – whether petrol or pedal powered

Alice Towers and Jonny Towers standing back to back
(Image credit: Richard Butcher)

This feature is part of the MEET THE MAKER series – each edition of which is first published in Cycling Weekly’s print magazine 

Life is better on two wheels – and the Towers family would most certainly agree with that. For those with an interest in motorcycling, Jonny Towers will be a familiar name. A British Supertwin and European Classic Endurance champion, Jonny has also won at the world-famous Spa Francorchamps, as well as competed at the Isle of Man TT. He claimed his first victory aged 16 and he’s still scoring wins today, at the age of 57.

Sporting success runs further back in the family, too: Jonny’s father Ian was a professional footballer who played for Burnley for nine seasons from 1965 and went on to play for Oldham Athletic and Bury. When Jonny was five, the family moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where Ian continued his pro football career.

At the age of 19, Jonny moved back to the UK to pursue his love of motorcycling. Alongside his frequent wins on the track and his very successful motorcycling apparel company RST, he was also a successful cyclist in the late Nineties, then in his early-30s, gaining an elite licence at the turn of the millennium. In 2003 he married Sam, and the couple had two children together: Alice, born in 2002, and Lucas, the following year.

Alice Towers competing in Paris-Roubaix Femmes 2023

(Image credit: Getty)

Alice, who became British road race champion aged just 19, is now 21 and in 2023 completed her first season in the women’s WorldTour with Canyon-SRAM. “My brother and I were always riding but not at a serious level until we were teenagers,” Alice recalls. “We began going to the local circuit series in Shrewsbury, but it wasn’t until I finished fourth in my first national race that I took it any more seriously. From 15 to 18 my progression was pretty quick and I was competing in WorldTour races with Le Col-Wahoo aged 18.”

Twenty-year-old Lucas, who rides for Spanish team Caja Rural-Alea, initially followed in his granddad’s footsteps: “Until 15 I was always more interested in football and only kept cycling because I didn’t want Alice to get better than me! It was the competition between us that kept me engaged – but then realised that I too had a passion for cycling.”

We spoke with the three Towers separately to try and understand the impact that Jonny, a legend on petrol-powered two wheels, has had on his two high-flying cycling children.

ALICE TOWERS

  • Age: 21
  • Height: 5ft 7in
  • Raised: Derbyshire
  • Lives: Coton in the Elms, Derbyshire
  • Occupation: Cyclist for Canyon-SRAM
  • Biggest sporting achievement: 1st, British National Road Race Champs (2022)

Cycling Weekly: What was your cycling upbringing like? 

Alice Towers: My dad got me and my brother into bikes. He was never pushy with us, but there was definitely a point when we were around 12 or 13 and he was urging us to carry on, and full credit to him because eventually Lucas and I ended up sharing the same passion.

What did your dad teach you?

Definitely bike-handling skills. My dad is used to riding motorbikes, leaning over, skimming a knee across the tarmac, and he taught me how to corner. He’s even taught descending in cycling team training camps.

How did he teach you this skill?

By explaining that if you understand the mechanics of cornering and descending, you can break it all down into its elements and its processes, so that it becomes less scary. Listening to the presentations he gives to teams, I realise that I automatically do the steps, and am aware of the right things to do.

Were your dad’s sporting endeavours inspiring?

Watching videos of him in his leathers and his helmet going so fast, it’s hard to think it’s my dad. It’s kind of weird. But being around him at races, seeing how he prepares, was definitely an influence on me.

Physiologically, what did you gain from your dad?

Fatigue resistance – we both love a long, difficult ride. I reckon I got the ability to build muscle from my mum.

Do you have the same riding styles?

My dad’s more attacking, more punchy. But we’re all definitely lean, and have similar body types.

Why didn’t you race motorbikes?

Because it’s way more expensive! If I hadn’t taken up cycling, I’m not sure what sport I would do.

How does your dad view you as a person?

Focused, mature... I hope nothing negative. You have the power to really stir the pot with this question!

How does your dad view you as an athlete?

He’s super proud, and he’ll always want me to keep improving, developing, toreach closer to the top. He is happy I’m making a living from being an athlete.

Do you like similar or different training conditions?

Different. I like wet and grimy weather; my dad hates it!

What about your personalities, are they similar?

We have very similar mindsets, and deal with emotions, pressure and stress in the same way. We have the same work ethic and I think how my dad operated when I was growing up had a big impact on me. I learned so much from him.

Jonny Towers

  • Age: 57
  • Height: 5ft 8in
  • Raised: Cape Town, South Africa
  • Lives: Coton in the Elms, Derbyshire
  • Occupation: Founder of RST, motorcycle apparel brand
  • Biggest sporting achievement: British Supertwin champion, 2017
Lucas's perspective

Lucas Towers holding a black trophy

(Image credit: Richard Butcher)

“I have to agree with Alice that the thing we’ve most inherited from our dad is our ability to descend and corner well. Is it nature or nurture? He taught us how to ride a bike – we rode together, we followed his lines, and you pick things up without realising. But at the same time, he is a natural talent on two wheels, and maybe that’s crossed over to us.

“It’s curious because, on a physiological level, I do think there are quite a lot of differences between us. My dad was a punchy rider, and neither Alice or I are like that. One of Alice’s best rides this season was at Roubaix, and if I, a 58kg climber, was ever sent there, I’d be absolutely destroyed.

“Where the three of us most definitely are similar is in our focus and determination. When my dad sets his mind to something, he will focus on it until he’s succeeded. I don’t ever feel like I am distracted in pursuit of being the best bike rider I can be, and I know the three of us all thrive under pressure and the excitement of a big event or target.”

Cycling Weekly: How great a role did cycling play in Alice and Lucas’s childhoods? 

Jonny Towers: Sport and competition were always in our lives, so it was natural for them. They were both very malleable. They did loads of sports, and fun was always emphasised: cafe rides with cake and making every ride an adventure. It was always a positive experience, and over time that grew into a shared passion

What aspect of cycling did you teach them?

Cornering and descending. You need to be able to feel what the tyres are doing, how much grip you have, reading the corner, and the angle of the apex. They followed me down descents and naturally mimicked me. I think 60% is natural, 40% is technical, from looking and learning. I’d back Alice to descend with the very best.

How did your own sporting career influence them?

I won an eight-hour race in Cape Town 10 years in a row and it was just always something they saw; it was never a big deal for them. Rather than telling them what to do, I was walking the walk, leading from the front, and they saw that as a visual example. It was an assumption of ‘this is how it is’.

Why don’t they race motorbikes?

They could have gone down the motorbiking route, but I know from my own experience the pitfalls and the costs. I also wanted them to do a bit of everything until they settled on a sport.

How do you imagine the kids describe you?

Determined, fiercely competitive, incredibly proud of both of them. I’m semi-retired now, but they see me as hard-working. I’d never ask them to be more than what I am myself.

Physiologically, what did you pass on?

There’s no cycling history in our family, but both Sam, my wife, and I are lean and fit. There is a sporting mentality and heritage through the blood line, so I’d argue that we have given them more psychologically.

Are you similar riders?

I was a good elite cyclist, but my head was better than my body. I pushed myself to be more than I was capable of. Alice and Lucas look and ride like the elite athletes they are.

Do you have the same preferences when it comes to training?

All of us love a long ride, a bit of through-and-off, but it’s usually me who gets killed these days.

Would you say your personalities are very different?

Not really. We’re all quite confident, but keep our mouths shut and show what we can do rather than talking about it. At school, Lucas was described as a silent assassin. We all have very strong work ethics, and Alice once said to me, while she was British champion, “Dad, I don’t think I am very talented, but I know I work really hard.” We never shy away from being determined.

GUESS WHAT HE SAID WHEN WE ASKED...

Alice, Jonny and Lucas Towers on bikes

(Image credit: Richard Butcher)

Cycling Weekly: Who is the most competitive?

Jonny: Me. I am super-competitive. I wouldn’t race unless I could win. But the variables are easier to control in motorcycling, and it’s easier to win.

Alice: He’d have said himself. In one season, he can get loads of wins and podiums.

Lucas: My dad can’t handle getting beat.

Could Jonny have been a pro cyclist?

J: When I was racing with [ex-pro] Chris Walker, he said if I committed to it properly, I could have been.

A: He reckons he could have been. I wouldn’t disagree. L: He was 30 when he started cycling and won National B races, so maybe, yes.

Who’ll have the most successful career?

 J: They’re far more advanced than I am on the motorbike. Alice is a national champion, has ridden the Tour de France Femmes, and Lucas has won top races. But I think I’m unique in still being competitive in my 50s.

A: I think it could be me. But Dad would have said – and he’s right – that I probably won’t be racing into my 50s.

L: I hope he said Alice. She won the National Champs at 19.

Who celebrates the most?

J: Probably me. Lucas appreciates a win, while Alice is like me – the next day it’s straight on to the next thing. 

A: Well, Dad definitely gets the chance to practise celebrating more than Lucas and I do!

L: Alice and I definitely don’t get to experience the feeling of winning as much as Dad does.

Which is the tougher sport, motorcycling or cycling?

J: Cycling. You hurt yourself more. You can win a motorbike race while being pretty ill; you can’t in cycling. 

A: He’ll definitely have said cycling. He’s always saying it. 

L: He knows what it takes to live like a pro cyclist. It’s maybe the hardest sport in the world.

What’s Jonny’s most annoying habit?

J: Constantly telling them that their bikes aren’t clean!

A: He likes to put the sofa one metre in front of the TV, turn the lights off, and then never move it back. 

L: Eating too early. He’s quite rigid with a 6pm dinner! 

This article was originally published in the November 2, 2023 edition of Cycling Weekly. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered direct to your door every week. 

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